We review and rate the new albums by Skalmold (pictured), Spirits Of The Dead, Malefice, Powerwolf, Battlecross and Svartsot.
And remember to check out rushonrock every Sunday for the very best in new rock and metal!
If Turisas have served to broaden the appeal of Viking Metal in all its battle-scarred glory then the slew of bands charging through in their blood-and-thunder slipstream is growing in both number and quality.
Skalmold have successfully managed to marry the commercial elements which have served to make this genre such big business in recent years with a raw edge which screams credibility and passion. Baldur is a monster of a record mixing traditional Viking Metal elements with power metal, folk metal and even a touch of old school thrash to create a melting pot of ear-bleeding brilliance.
With five songs clocking in at more than five minutes and the epic title track and closer managing just shy of 11 minutes this is a record which deserves – and requires – more than a passing listen. Its many layers of diverse vocals, rich storytelling and canny aural twists are both engrossing and entertaining and, time consuming though it is, it’s impossible to put this album down.
Like a horn of the best Scandinavian ale one taste is not enough where Baldur is concerned. A certain commitment is necessary if you’re going to get the most from one of the most ambitious albums of 2011. And yet giving yourself over completely to the behemoth that is Baldur guarantees a most rewarding and magical experience. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Faster, Louder, Baldur
Reading’s Malefice have done exactly as their new album title would suggest. Previously faring well in their maniacal mix of death metal, thrash and all things tagged with a ‘core’ label, the five-piece band have literally woken on their musical journey to cause a tidal rift in their discography.
Awaken The Tides has a stamped mark of originality that sets it apart from other undeveloped metal acts, modestly boasting a wealth of mature technicality whilst making light work of finding those crucial melodies.
Admittedly, with hindsight, it’s fair to say that their first few tracks on the record aren’t their strongest and it’s from the mid-section of this fourth attempt that can be appreciated most. This is when unexpected ambient, dreamy interludes begin to emerge from the hard framework of thumping breaks and cracking melodeath guitar lines. It’s certainly refreshing to hear such ambitious sounds.
Blessed Cursed has massive bridges of breakdown near the end, but it’s the even bigger chorus that keeps the song on course for a spot on the highlight reel. As the outro fades beautifully into The Day The Sky Fell, the sounds of sirens serenading back a building military snare, eventually culminating in one of their most accessible songs to date – dare I say it’s ballady?
It might be their viscous breaks that allow them to slip briefly into a ‘core’ categorisation, but look past the stigma, because essentially Malefice can soak up the lead-weight and charisma of the genre and project it into something much more exciting.
Vocals are executed with a thrashy attitude but often backed by destructive gutturals, providing an interesting balance. An element of synth-experimentation also makes things slightly more epic sounding – Flood Of Red being the best example of the power they can garner from exploring such avenues. The Haunting finishes Awaken The Tides with an acoustic reflective ending, whisked smoothly by Dale Butler’s soft yet husky pipes. CR
rushonrock rated: 7.5/10 Tides Have Turned
If you were disappointed with Hammerfall’s change of heart earlier in the year, then fear not, Powerwolf are here to rally you with some outrageously flamboyant, fist-waving bravado metal. German brothers Charles and Matthew Greywolf are onto album number four with their band, and it is one catchy record.
This is like Sabaton marching to fight Freedom Call in a no-holds-barred bash that goes on into the early hours of the morning. ‘Epic’ is a word often used in describing such bands, and we’ll make no exception in using the word here. Yes, it’s done in a silly, tongue-in-cheek mentality with big choruses like We Drink Your Blood, but who can complain when you generate a sound that could short-circuit the national power grid?
With new drummer Thomas Diener on the kit, Powerwolf keep percussion basic, but ultimately don’t need to do anything more. Romanian frontman Attila Dorn heads the huge charge of big riffs and even bigger church organ, with imagery dabbling in Christianity.
With an odd shiver travelling down the spine, Powerwolf make you want to be proud of something but you’re still not sure what. Dead Boys Don’t Cry might follow their typical big chorus formula, but it’s with massive swathes of energy that the five-piece perpetually pull it off. Ira Sancti (When The Saints Are Going Wild) is an ambitious finisher that re-asserts their authority and leaves the listener reflecting in an outro of soothing rain and thunder.
In its entirety Blood Of The Saints is a wild crusade that has nipped the best concepts of sword-wielding power metal and exploited them to create a charismatic album. CR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Saints Alive
Battlecross – the name has a certain power to it that connotes something big is about to be dished out and it’s going to come in chunky proportions. Unfortunately these Michigan natives have failed to do so on this re-issued debut now re-named Pursuit Of Honour.
What’s more frustrating is that a group of clearly talented musicians have made something completely soulless. Though their work is technical, speedy and thrashy, it’s equally boring, repetitive and bland. It’s a classic case of brains and brawn – they have the muscular credentials to play their instruments but have directed their sound to such a poor end.
One of the worst aspects of this record is the consistency of the vocals – which sounds crazy. But it’s the fact that the high pitched, uninspired screams of Kyle Gunther are consistently annoying and monotonous – essentially soiling an already flat sound. The backing growls are deeper but cannot mask what is simply a diabolical mess. Their ambition is to make a rampant melodeath record with thrashy edges and a metalcore sentiment, and while this is appetising on paper, it is most certainly not in practice.
The introduction of Rupture isn’t actually too bad but then the talentless vocals bog it down, going on to worsen with a series of badly executed, arbitrary guitar lines and breakdowns that make you indifferent to continue listening.
Yes, this probably is one of the worst albums we’ve ever had the displeasure of reviewing. The stereo switches off and Pursuit Of Honour cuts – we’ll happily never listen to it again. CR
rushonrock rated: Battlecrap 2/10
Folk metal is experiencing something of a renaissance and, from its underground, understated roots a genre so long ignored is beginning to make a big noise on the rock scene. Svartsot’s rich sound and pounding rhythms ensure they’re at the forefront of a vibrant scene and more records like this will surely see them challenging frontrunners Finntroll, Korpiklaani, Moonsorrow and their ilk.
Any band able to call upon a frontman named Thor is off to the perfect start and Mr Bager doesn’t disappoint with growls just audible enough to mean something (in Danish, anyway). A vibrant vocal style (occasionally aping Rammstein at its most ferocious) is only the first attraction here and Maledictus Eris swiftly develops into a truly monumental release.
Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen’s liberal use of everything from Irish whistles to the mandolin and the accordion the the bodhran ensures there’s plenty to keep the avid listener engrossed. And Svartsot’s decision to resist veering into truly epic territory – the bulk of the songs here are four or five minutes long – ensures their third long player maintains a certain energy and focus throughout.
The chant-along cheeriness of Farsoten Kom masks an altogether eerier undercurrent to the Danes’ finest work to date and that goes for the bulk of an endearing album. On one level there’s an image of jolly druid-like figures waving their sticks with gay abandon and on the other a vision of deeply disturbed devil-worshippers slaughtering wild beasts and young maidens for pleasure.
That we can’t understand a word the mighty Thor’s saying almost adds to the mystique… SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 From The Svart
There was quite a buzz surrounding SOTD in the wake of last year’s self-titled record and, far from resting on their laurels, the prog-tinged Norwegian classic rockers have ensured they maintain the momentum by rolling out the fantastic follow-up The Great God Pan.
Opener Mighty Mountain mixes Yes and Pink Floyd to thrilling effect with the subtle touches of guitar hero Ole Ovstedal perfectly complementing Ragnar Viske’s hauntingly melodic vocals. It’s a heady mix of obvious talents which lies at the heart of everything that’s great about SOTD. And there’s a lot that’s great about this band.
The upbeat intro to Leaves Of Last Year’s Fall has a retro 70s folksy feel but like so much of this band’s very best work that’s only half the story. There’s a sharp indie riff to be found deep in the mix and as the bass moves to the fore it’s almost akin to The Doors at their stoner-tastic best before a sweeping psychedelic mid-section segues into a laid-back reprise of the lazy intro. Cracking stuff.
Pure As The Lotus crackles (literally) with intent as SOTD go all out for a swirling retro soundscape, replete with Hammond loop, and the second longest song on this concise and focused album is, without a doubt, the highlight. Closer Goldberry might be longer – and more of what you might expect from this ambitious quartet – but it lacks the ‘wow’ factor. And that is totally unexpected from a band which is surely destined for a very big future. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Dead Good
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.